Before proposing a reason why two Greek manuscripts, one Sahidic manuscript, one Old
Latin manuscript, one Syriac manuscript, and an early stratum of the Armenian version do
not contain Mark 16:9-20, let's briefly diverge to consider some pieces of evidence which
commentators have described in ways which might have given readers false impressions:
(1) The Old Georgian version: the two oldest Old Georgian manuscripts of Mark 16 do
not include Mark 16:9-20. However, when placing that evidence on the scales, we should
consider that these two copies are not particularly old; they are from 897 and 913. Several
Old Georgian copies that are only slightly younger include verses 9-20. More importantly,
since the Old Georgian version was translated from an early Armenian text, this Old
Georgian evidence should not be treated as if it is independent of its Armenian ancestor-
(2) About a dozen manuscripts, especially members of the Caesarean group called family-
1, contain scribal notes and marks before verse 9; Metzger vaguely described these as
"Not a few manuscripts." He also stated that the notes say that "older Greek copies
lack" Mk. 16:9-20, and that the marks they contain were used "to indicate a spurious
addition to a document." However, the notes take the following forms: (A) In MSS 20,
215, and 300: "From here to the end forms no part of the text in some of the copies. In
the ancient copies, however, it all forms part of the text." (B) In MSS 1, 205, 205abs, 209,
and 1582: "In some of the copies, the evangelist's work is finished here, as is also
Eusebius Pamphili's canonization. But in many, this also appears."
(C) In 15, 22, 1110, 1192, and 1210 : "In some of the copies, the evangelist's
work is finished here. But in many, this also appears." (D) In one manuscript,
Codex 199, "In some of the copies this does not appear; it stops here."
Forms B and C are related; sometime/somewhere after the Eusebian Canons
were adjusted to include Mark 16:9-20 the phrase about the Eusebian Canons
in Form B was omitted, resulting in Form C. So: we are dealing with a
smattering of medieval manuscripts. We are not dealing with a dozen
independent copyists, but with four annotations which were copied along
with the text, two of which are obviously related. Form A, while mentioning
that some copies lack Mk. 16:9-20, affirms that the ancient copies include the
passage - hardly the impression one gets from Metzger's claim that the notes
state "that the older Greek copies lack it." And on balance, Forms B and C
vindicate rather than indict the passage, stating that while "some" copies lack
the passage, "many" include it. Regarding the claim that some copies contain
an asterisk or obelus to indicate that the passage is spurious: this claim is
difficult to verify. Some annotated MSS have asterisks to draw attention to an
annotation, and some MSS have liturgical marks to signal the beginning of a
new lection. The claim that any unannotated MSS contain doubt-indicating
asterisks at Mk. 16:9-20 is yet to be proven.
(3) Three medieval manuscripts - 1420, 2386, and 304 - are sometimes enlisted
as evidence against Mk. 16:9-20. However, 1420 is missing Mk. 16:9-20 only
because it is missing the pages upon which they were written. In MS 2386,
someone removed the page that contained Mk. 16:9-20 in order to steal the
valuable illustration that occupied the other side of the page. As for 304, it is
a copy of Matthew and Mark accompanied by a commentary interspersed with
the text. Its text of Mark ends abruptly at the end of 16:8, but the commentary-
material also ends abruptly, and there is no closing-title after 16:8. MS 304's
text-type is Byzantine. Hort noted that its annotations "are almost identical with
those that are attributed to Theophylact [an author/compiler of the 1100's], which
certainly cover vv. 9-20." All things considered, 304 is not a clear witness to the
abrupt ending; it may have initially been a complete Gospels-manuscript which
was rebound into two volumes for easier use; if the last bit of Mark was on the
same pages as the beginning of Luke, the text of Mark would resume at the
beginning of the second volume, now lost.
(4) The Greek text of Mark 16:8 ends with the word "gar." It has been
claimed that this is not exceptional, because other books have been found
which also end with the word "gar." However, one of those other "books"
is a speech, in which the speaker (Protagoras of Abdera) adds a parenthetical
qualification before concluding. Another one is a portion of a composition by
Plotinus (Enneads 32:5, c. 250) which was edited and arranged into chapters
by his assistant Porphyry. These are not narratives. They show that it was
grammatically acceptable to end a sentence with "gar" but that does not make
it stylistically probable that Mark, or anyone else, would deliberately end a
narrative with "gar."
Now let's return to the question about the abrupt text in the Alexandrian
HOW WAS MARK 16:9-20 LOST IN THE EARLY ALEXANDRIAN TEXT?
Although the support for Mark 16:9-20 is early and widespread, there is a
concentration of support for the non-inclusion of the passage in
representatives of the early Alexandrian text and in representatives of the
Caesarean Text influenced by the Alexandrian Text: the Sahidic version,
non-extant manuscripts mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea, Codices
Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and non-extant ancestor-manuscripts of some of the
witnesses that contain the Shorter Ending. There are three ways in which the
passage could have been lost: by accidental damage to an exemplar, by an
accidental misreading, or by deliberate removal. Let's explore each possibility.
(1) ACCIDENTAL DAMAGE. Damage could easily occur to the text at the
end of a scroll that was not rewound after reading. Similarly, in book-form, the
last page would be vulnerable to accidental loss, especially if the book was made
of cheap papyrus. Some manuscripts of the Gospels arrange the books in the
order Matthew-John-Luke-Mark, so even after the Gospel of Mark was
collected with the others, its last page would be especially susceptible to
accidental damage. If a copy that had been damaged in such a way had thus lost
its final portion, on which Mk. 16:9-20 had been written, and that copy was the
lone exemplar in an isolated locale in Egypt, this could explain why the abruptly-
ending text had a temporary popularity in Egypt. By the time undamaged copies
of Mark arrived, Egyptian copyists who were used to the abrupt declined to
include the new ending, perhaps in some cases because the Shorter Ending had
already been devised to bring the text to an acceptable close.
(2) ACCIDENTAL MISREADING. The eleven Heothina-readings are an
especially early liturgical series. Liturgical notes about the Heothina-readings
could elicit the loss of Mark 16:9-20 under some unusual circumstances: if an
inexperienced copyist used a lector's copy of Matthew and Mark as his
exemplar and had no one to help him interpret its liturgical symbols and rubrics
(a situation which may have arisen when church-leaders were martyred, as
occurred in Alexandria in the early 200's), then he may have found, at the end of
the Gospel of Matthew, a liturgical note that meant "End of the first Gospel-
reading." Although this note had been intended to refer to the end of the first
Heothina-reading, the novice copyist would misinterpret it as if it referred to the
end of the Gospel itself. Later, when he reached the end of Mark 16:8 and
found a liturgical note that meant "End of the second Gospel-reading," he would
misinterpret it to mean that the second Gospel ought to end there. So he would
add the closing-title at that point. What would he do with verses 9-20? We might
wish that he would realize his mistake, but two other possibilities are that he would
assume that the passage constituted another, shorter composition, or that it was
a stray portion of text from the third Gospel, inasmuch as it concluded with a
liturgical note, "End of the third Gospel-reading." Thus the manuscript of
Matthew and Mark that he produced would end at the end of Mark 16:8.
(3) DELIBERATE REMOVAL. This theory is built on a special premise about
the production of the Gospel of Mark. We have been considering the external
evidence, but internal evidence is also extremely important. Metzger, along with
the many commentators who have relied upon his statements, stated that "The
vocabulary and style of verses 9-20 are non-Markan." This claim about
vocabulary is questionable, because while 16:9-20 contains 17 words not used
elsewhere by Mark, Dr. Bruce Terry has discovered that another 12-verse
section of Mark (15:40-16:4) contains 20 words not used elsewhere by Mark.
Some stylistic features suggest that 16:9-20 was not written to continue the
narrative that otherwise stops at the end of verse 8. Although the three women
appear to depart the tomb together in v. 8, Mary Magdalene is suddenly pictured
by herself. Although Mary Magdalene was introduced in 15:40, she is described
in v. 9 in a way that is consistent with a first-time introduction. Although Jesus, in
14:28, and the angel at the tomb in 16:7, tell about a future reunion with the
disciples in Galilee, the scenes throughout 16:9-20 appear to take place in or
If we interpret this internal evidence to mean that 16:9-20 was not attached by
Mark, would that make the passage spurious? No. The premise that a single
book must have a single author has never been the standard by which the
canonical shape of a Biblical text has been determined. The book of Psalms, and
the book of Proverbs, are both composite works of several authors. Jeremiah
51:64 exlicitly states that Jeremiah's words end there, but chapter 52 is never-
theless part of the canonical text. Other examples of this principle could be
supplied. The original text of a book is not established by determining which parts
were written by its primary author; the original text is the contents of the book
when its production-stage ended and its transmission-stage began. If Mark
16:9-20 was attached in the production-stage, then it is as original as any other
part of the original text.
It is not difficult to picture the following scenario: in the mid-60's in Rome,
shortly after the death of Peter, Mark was forced by persecutors to suddenly
flee the city and escape. (Traditions state that Mark went from Rome to
Alexandria, where he was later martyred.) He left behind the unfinished text
of the Gospel of Mark. His Roman colleagues, unwilling to release it in its
unfinished form (16:8 ends virtually mid-sentence, an unheard-of feature as the
last sentence of a narrative text), but equally unwilling to add their own words to
those of Peter's assistant, chose a third option: they attached a short composition
about Jesus' post-resurrection appearances that Mark had written at an earlier
time -- a composition which we know as verses 9-20. Then, and only then, the
text's production-stage ended and it began to be disseminated for church-use.
Sometime later, an overly meticulous copyist removed these added verses --
perhaps having encountered them in their earlier form as a freestanding document --
on the grounds that they were not added by the primary author. (An effect of
such an overly meticulous mindset is displayed in Codex Sinaiticus at the end of
John; the copyist initially rejected John 21:25, regarding it as secondary, but then
reconsidered and retained the verse.)
There may be more to the story, although this additional hypothesis is not a
key part of the basic theory: possibly, shortly after Mark's departure from Rome,
an early copy of Mark 1:1-16:20 was taken to Ephesus by someone who regarded
the addition of verses 9-20 as a temporary measure; this individual went to ask
John to write a more authoritative ending. If John complied with this request,
producing a short text that resembled John 21:1-19, this would explain why John
21:1 introduces a new scene after the Gospel of John is brought to a close at the
end of chapter 20. It would also explain why John 21:1-19 forms an appropriate
ending to Mark 1:1-16:8, telling how Jesus met the disciples in Galilee and
restored Peter, just as foreshadowed in Mark 14:28 and 16:7. Then when it
became clear that Roman copies of the Gospel of Mark would continue to
contain 16:9-20, a decision was made to recast John's ending to Mark's account,
and it became part of an extra chapter of the Gospel of John. But some individuals,
aware of the original reason why John had written the extra material, continued to
regard it as a better ending to the Gospel of Mark than 16:9-20, so, regarding
16:9-20 as superfluous, when they collected together the four Gospels in the early
100's, they decided not to include Mark 16:9-20, preferring instead John 21 as the
proper conclusion to Mark's account. Without the understanding that John 21 should
be read after Mark 16:8, such a form of the Gospels-text would tend to invite an
addition after 16:8; this happened in Egypt, where the Shorter Ending was composed
to round off the otherwise abrupt ending. From Egypt, the abruptly-ending form
spread to Caesarea, and later, from Caesarea to Armenia. Everywhere else, though,
the original Roman form of the Gospel of Mark was accepted, including 16:9-20.
I consider possibility #3 the most likely explanation for the abrupt Egyptian form of
Mark: an overly meticulous copyist declined to include it because of a strong
suspicion, or awareness, that it had not been added personally by Mark.
In 1881, Hort observed that the contents of Mark 16:9-20 "are not such as could
have been invented by any scribe or editor of the Gospel in his desire to supply the
observed defect by as substantial and dignified ending." Hort proposed that Mark
16:9-20 was added by someone who, "unwilling to change the words of the text before
him or to add words of his own, was willing to furnish the Gospel with what seemed a
worthy conclusion by incorporating with it unchanged a narrative of Christ's appearances
after the Resurrection which he found in some secondary record." Metzger similarly
stated, "It is unlikely that the long ending was composed ad hoc to fill up an obvious gap;
it is more likely that the section was excerpted from another document." In other words,
these 12 verses were not composed to complete Mark's Gospel; they were attached to do
so. This explains the lack of a transition between v. 8 and v. 9, and the re-statement of the
time, the re-introduction of Mary Magdalene, and the non-appearance of her companions
in v. 9. It also explains why, although a post-resurrection appearance in Galilee is forecast
in 16:7, verses 9-20 describe post-resurrection appearances in and around Jerusalem.
The question is, did the attachment of verses 9-20 occur during the production-stage of the
Gospel of Mark, or later, in the second century?
A second-century origin of Mark 16:9-20 seems less probable than an earlier one.
Although several commentators have proposed that Mark 16:9-20 is a patchwork based
on parallel-passages in the other Gospels, a careful comparison to the parallel-passages
indicates that the author was unaware of the other Gospel-accounts. Some verbal
similarities are inevitable because the authors report some of the same events. But no one
who relied upon Matthew 28 (in which the eleven disciples follow the women's instructions
to go to Galilee) would assert that the disciples did not believe the women. No one who
relied upon Luke 24 (in which no post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and Mary
Magdalene is mentioned) would state that Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus after His
resurrection; no one familiar with the scene in Luke 24:33-43 (in which Jesus appears to
the disciples as the two travelers are speaking) would arbitrarily split it into two scenes,
stating instead that the eleven disciples initially did not believe the two travelers, and that
Jesus appeared to them later. And no one who relied upon John 21 would decline to use its
highly appropriate contents.
In addition, several details in Mark 16:9-20 have no basis in the parallel accounts about
Jesus' post-resurrection appearances: only in Mk. 16:9 are the disciples depicted
mourning and weeping. Only in Mk. 16:9 is it stated that Mary Magdalene was not
believed when she reported that she had seen Jesus. Only in 16:14 does Jesus rebuke the
entire group of eleven disciples because they did not believe those who had seen Him after
He had risen. Only in 16:17-18 does Jesus predict that His followers will be accompanied
by specific signs such as taking up serpents and being invulnerable to poison. And only in
16:20 do the disciples depart to preach after Christ's ascension. None of this suggests that
the text was written by a second-century copyist who relied upon Matthew, Luke, and
John. Instead, it all supports the theory that verses 9-20 were written independently as a
summary of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, before being attached to finish the text
of the Gospel of Mark.
Some interpreters who favor 16:8 as the original ending (very few of whom have described
the external evidence accurately) have attempted to see it as a deliberate "suspended
ending," supposing that Mark thus invited the reader to be challenged by the sudden
stoppage of the narrative. However, these interpreters have not convinced one another
about exactly what it is that readers were supposed to be challenged to do; on this point
they wildly disagree. Nor have they plausibly explained why Mark, as preserver of
Peter's recollections about Jesus, would intentionally end his narrative at a point when
Jesus' own prophecy in 14:28 is unfulfilled, and the disciples were last seen fleeing in
Gethsemane, and Peter was last seen weeping about his triple-denial of Jesus, and the
women who visited the tomb were failing to deliver the angel's message to the disciples --
even though Mark knew that Jesus met the disciples in Galilee, and that Peter was
restored to service, and that the women delivered the angel's message. A more realistic
interpretation is that 16:8 looks like an unintentionally unfinished sentence because that is
what it is: the last words written by Mark before he was forced by an emergency to
suddenly stop writing and leave Rome. Mark's colleagues respected Mark's message too
much to leave it unfinished, and they respected Mark's words too much to add to them
except by adding words from a text which Mark had either written or which he and/or Peter
One more thing should be said before some brief concluding thoughts. Some
commentators appeal to the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke as the earliest
evidence that the Gospel of Mark originally ended at 16:8, on the grounds that the
narratives in Mt. 28 and Lk. 24 run parallel up to the point where the narrative ends in
Mark 16:8 but diverge from that point on. The idea is that Matthew and Luke both used,
as a source, a form of Mark that ended at 16:8. There are some problems with this
proposal. One is that it constructs a lose-lose scenario for Mark 16:9-20. If sustained
parallels existed between Mt. 28 and Mk. 16:9-20, or between Lk. 24 and Mk. 16:9-20,
this could/would be employed as evidence that the author of Mk. 16:9-20 borrowed
material from Mt. 28 or Lk. 24. Another problem is that Luke did not use Mk. 6:45-8:26,
10:1-10, 14:28, or 15:44-45. If this means that these verses were unknown to him, then so
much for the premise that Luke used the text known as the Gospel of Mark.
Although a scholarly consensus has developed in favor of the view that Mark 16:9-20
is not part of the original text of Mark, no scholarly consensus can be considered valid
if its advocates have used false statements as stepping-stones toward their conclusions.
Widespread errors about Mark 16:9-20 in popular and influential commentaries indicate
that this is the case. [A few examples: the passage is falsely said to be lacking in most
lectionaries (James A. Brooks). It is said to be missing from MS 274 (A. T. Robinson).
It is claimed to be absent from "many of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts"
(Norman Geisler). Codex W is said to contain "a different ending entirely" (Robert
Grant). It is said to be absent from "very many Greek manuscripts of the Gospel"
(Wilfrid Harrington). It is said to be absent from Codex Alexandrinus (Ron Rhodes).
It is said that Mark ends at 16:8 "in many ancient Greek manuscripts" (Lawrence O.
Richards). It is claimed that "Eusebius and Jerome both tell us these verses were absent
from all Greek copies known to them" (Ben Witherington III; NIV-translator Ralph
Martin made the same claim).]
Evidence from Bible-footnotes also indicates this. Most Bible-footnotes about the passage
are deceptively vague, such as the one in the New American Standard Bible Update which
states, "Late mss add vv. 16:9-20." Some of them are false. A footnote in The Jerusalem
Bible states that "Many MSS omit vv. 9-20." A footnote in The Message states that
Mk. 16:9-20 "is contained only in later manuscripts." A footnote in the English Standard
Version states that "A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14." These
notes need to be withdraw and improved.
In conclusion: without fully resolving the question about the authorship of Mark 16:9-20
(except to note that the internal evidence is not sufficient to disprove the idea that Mark
composed the passage as a separate document), I believe that the external and internal
evidence support the view that Mark 16:9-20 was in the Gospel of Mark in the form in
which it was first transmitted for church-use. The passage is more likely to have been
attached in the production-stage than at a later stage. It was accepted as Scripture every-
where except in Egypt, probably after an overly meticulous copyist declined to include it
on the grounds that it had not been added personally by Mark. Mark 16:9-20 deserves its
status as part of the canonical text. It should be fully included in all translations of the
The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20
The Form C annotation in Codex 22,
between 16:8 and 16:9.
The word "telos" after 16:8 indicates
the end of a lection.
Codex 274 contains 16:9-20 in the text
following 16:8 (a liturgical note which
means "End of the second Heothina-
reading" is between 16:8 and 16:9).
The Shorter Ending is in the lower
margin, beside a column of asterisks.
To the right of 16:9, a note identifies the
passage as the third Heothina-reading,
also to be read on Ascension-Day.
An asterisk to the left of 16:9 shows
where the Shorter Ending was
apparently found in a supplemental
The Form B annotation in Codex 1, followed by Mk.
16:9-13. A liturgical note in the upper margin
identifies the passage as Heothina #3. Expanded
Eusebian Section-numbers are in the left margin.
Between Mark 16:8 and 16:9 in Codex G (from the
800's), symbols indicate the end of morning-reading
#2 and the beginning of morning-reading #3.
This replica of Mark 16:19-20 in the Book of Kells,
produced in the late 700's, displays
(with minor variations) the text of the
Vulgate which Jerome compiled in 383.
The list of chapter-titles in the book of Kells
also included Mk. 16:9-20.
Codex X (produced in the 800's or 900's),
as shown in this replica, contains Mk. 16:9-20
following 16:8. The copyist accidentally
skipped a word in verse 14. Verse 18 begins
with a textual variant, the phrase "Kai en tais
chersin" - "And in their hands."
The Lindisfarne Gospels (an ornate
Latin copy of the Gospels produced in
715 or slightly earlier) has the text of
the Vulgate, which Jerome produced
in 383. Its list of 46 chapter-titles
also includes 16:9-20.
Between the Latin lines is an Old
English translation, added in the 900's.